Preserved labneh (yogurt cheese balls)

Homemade savoury treat perfect for gifting!

I love Lebanese cuisine and these little preserved cheese balls made from yogurt have long been a favourite, though I never knew until recently how relatively easy they are to prepare. They’re often featured on breakfast or brunch menus but I also love them as a quick snack with crackers or pita bread. I like to use several different coloured spice blends including za’atar, lemon pepper, dried mint or barbeque rub but the sky’s the limit when it comes to the flavourings you use. Note that you can skip the step of rolling the yogurt cheese into balls if you prefer, and just use it as a cream cheese style spread thought it will not stay fresh as long as the preserved labneh balls in oil do.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups (1 L) full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons (20 g) dry spices (or spice blends) for rolling
  • 1 1/2 cups (approximately) (375 mL) olive oil

Method

  • Carefully scoop the yogurt into a strainer which has been lined with two layers of cheesecloth and placed over a bowl large enough to keep the strainer elevated off the bottom of the bowl by at least an inch (2.5 cm) – use two strainers and bowls if needed. Place the strainer(s) and bowl(s) in the refrigerator. Allow the yogurt to drain for 12 hours. At this point, the yogurt will be a bit thicker and there will be a puddle of clear liquid (whey) in the bottom of the bowl. Drain off the whey and discard (or save to add to soup or baking).
  • Transfer the yogurt from the sieve(s) to a clean bowl and stir in the salt and lemon juice. Return to the yogurt to the sieve, reusing the same cheesecloth (you should be able to consolidate into one sieve/bowl at this point).
  • Return the bowl to the refrigerator and allow to drain more until the yogurt has thickened to the point of being similar in texture to cream cheese (approximately 36 – 48 hours). The longer you allow the yogurt to drain, the thicker the labneh will be and the easier it will be to roll into balls and coat with herbs.
  • To make labneh balls, line a large plate with paper towels. With clean hands, form the labneh into equally-sized balls (about 3/4 inch or 2 cm in diameter) and place them on the plate. Cover with another layer of paper towel. Refrigerate until the balls are firm and dry, approximately eight hours. Allowing them to rest in the refrigerator will firm up the labneh balls enough to roll them easily.
  • Place your desired spice mixtures in small bowls and gently roll the labneh in them, pressing lightly so the spices adhere.
  • Carefully transfer the balls to one or more clean canning jars and cover with olive oil. Refrigerate for up to 3 months.
  • Allow labneh balls and oil to come to room temperature before serving. Once you’ve eaten the labneh, the oil can be used in vinaigrettes and cooking – just refrigerate until ready to use.

Makes approximately 2 cups (500 mL) of labneh.

Author: Paula Roy

Welcome to my kitchen! I love simple dishes prepared with passion and am always seeking to find new methods to make food as fun and flavourful as possible. If you enjoy this space be sure to check out my Rogers TV Ottawa cooking show, Paula Roy's Favourite Foods, available on local cable, streaming and YouTube.

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